Douglas unveils health care plan

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas unveiled a health care reform plan on Tuesday that aims to reduce the number of uninsured people in Vermont by 20 percent. Douglas says the proposal will also help reduce premium rates for many Vermonters who currently have health care policies.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, Douglas’ challenger in the gubernatorial campaign says the plan is a rehash of old ideas that don’t work.

(Kinzel) A day before Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Clavelle is set to unveil his comprehensive health care reform plan, Governor Jim Douglas unexpectedly released his own plan at a Vermont Chamber of Commerce meeting in Stowe.

The Douglas plan calls for a public-private partnership to help control health care expenses. It includes a new program that would offer subsidies to low and middle income people to help them purchase private insurance coverage. The plan would be financed by taxing health insurance companies.

A variation of this approach was rejected by House Republicans at the Statehouse last winter. The governor’s plan also includes a state tax credit to encourage small businesses to offer health care coverage to their employees.

Douglas says the creation of a high-risk pool for individuals will also help reduce many existing policies by as much as 15 percent:

(Douglas) “The key is patient choice – empowering individuals to make decisions about their own health care. I want to be sure that patients and doctors make decisions, not government politicians and bureaucrats. So I envision a public-private partnership in which the private sector – the insurance company market – plays a key role in offering different choices and products to the people of our state.”

(Kinzel) The Douglas approach is in sharp contrast to the policies of former Governor Howard Dean. Dean extended health care coverage to many Vermonters by expanding eligibility in several Medicaid programs like Doctor Dynasaur and the Vermont Health Access Plan. Douglas argues that approach has led to a $50 million deficit:

(Douglas) “So putting more people on publicly funded programs is moving us toward a situation where we won’t be able to support it as a state, as taxpayers. And it also exacerbates the cost shift because we underpay our providers – doctors and dentists and hospitals – and therefore the cost gets shifted to private customers.”

(Kinzel) Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur is Clavelle’s campaign manager. She says the governor’s plan is the wrong approach to control health care costs:

(Wallace-Brodeur) “In terms of addressing the problem that most people have in Vermont, which is that their health care is too expensive, this plan is not going to do anything about that. In fact it’s probably going to make it worse for many people. I think it fails to address the fundamental problem.”

(Kinzel) Clavelle will offer the details of his health care plan on Wednesday in Burlington.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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